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STEELY DAN - Gaucho cover
3.44 | 16 ratings | 4 reviews
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Album · 1980

Filed under RnB


A1 Babylon Sisters 5:51
A2 Hey Nineteen 5:04
A3 Glamour Profession 7:28
B1 Gaucho 5:32
B2 Time Out Of Mind 4:10
B3 My Rival 4:30
B4 Third World Man 5:14

Total Time: 38:13


Alto Saxophone – David Sanborn
Baritone Saxophone – Ronny Cuber
Backing Vocals [Backup] – Diva Grey , Gordon Grody, Lani Groves, Leslie Miller, Patti Austin, Toni Wine, Frank Floyd, Zack Sanders, Valerie Simpson, Michael McDonald
Bass – Chuck Rainey, Walter Becker, Anthony Jackson
Bass Clarinet – George Marge, Walter Kane
Drums – Bernard Purdie, Rick Marotta, Steve Gadd
Electric Piano, Clavinet – Don Grolnick
Electric Piano, Organ, Synthesizer – Donald Fagen
Electric Piano – Patrick Rebillot (track B3), Joe Sample(track B4)
Guitar – Steve Khan, Hugh McCracken, Walter Becker, Hiram Bullock, Rick Derringer
Lead Guitar – Mark Knopfler (track B2), Steve Khan(track B3), Larry Carlton(track B4)
Lead Vocals – Donald Fagen
Percussion – Crusher Bennett, Steve Gadd, Victor Feldman, Ralph McDonald
Piano, Synthesizer – Rob Mounsey
Tenor Saxophone, Alto Saxophone, Clarinet, Lyricon – Tom Scott
Tenor Saxophone – Dave Tofani, Michael Brecker
Timbales – Nicholas Marrero
Trumpet, Flugelhorn – Randy Brecker
Trombone – Wayne Andre

About this release

MCA Records – MCA-6102 (US)

Thanks to snobb for the updates


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Specialists/collaborators reviews

If "Aja" was the ultimate congruent cast party for Steely Dan (an opinion I heartily endorse) then "Gaucho" was the inevitable hangover. Now, Dan fans, don't overreact to that weak metaphor, it's still a good album. They didn't make bad ones. Donald Fagen, Walter Becker and producer Gary Katz had released six long-playing records before this one and there's not a runt in the litter. But I think they realized that the near-perfect "Aja" project was a rare alignment of cosmic forces where the graces of the session Gods shined down on them, never to be simulated, imitated or duplicated in their lifetimes. Therefore a complete change of attitude and set design was the only way to avoid unfavorable comparisons to that crowning achievement. Taking a whole year off was a well-deserved vacation from the claustrophobic confines of the studio for all involved. But fickle lady luck moved on in their absence. An unfathomable tape erasure disaster, an ugly lawsuit with its requisite posse of conniving lawyers, poor Walt's disabling misadventure involving a New York City cab and a high-stakes wheelin' & dealin' swap meet on the part of their label may have been either circumstantial cases of bad fortune or some evil conspiracy hell-bent on sucking all the air from their billowing sails. Or maybe they just lost their mojo. Whatever the reason, "Gaucho" didn't pack the usual jazz/rock fusion punch and, worst of all, it would be their last album for over 20 long years to come. The subject matter of many of the songs coupled with the overwhelming mellowness of the sound leads me to suspect that Don & Walt turning 30 while making the album also played a major part. Those of you who haven't breached that gut-check hurdle might think it's just a number but we on the other side of that milestone can attest to the existence-reassessment and soul-searching that it induces in the victim. At least that's what happened to me and I think it happened to the duo called Steely Dan. I offer the excellent opening tune, "Babylon Sisters," as evidence. A sly Rhodes piano creeps up, then crisp horns jump in before the verse arrives with Bernard Purdie on drums and Chuck Rainey on bass laying down the kind of tight track only they can provide. Fagen relates a story about a successful man of wealth who has come face to face with middle age and refuses to surrender, opting to look for the fountain of youth in the company of much younger ladies. He ignores all the dire warnings. "My friends say no/don't go for that cotton candy/son, you're playing with fire/the kid will live and learn/as he watches his bridges burn/from the point of no return," Donald sings. The way the female chorale leaps up out of the silky smoothness adds a great dynamic to the number and what becomes apparent is that this album will rely on clever arrangements to keep the listener interested rather than virtuoso guest performances. While that tactic works well here I can't say the same for three of the remaining cuts.

And "Hey Nineteen" is the first of those three. I know the stinging Stratocaster note at the outset gives it instant recognition the world over and the catchy hook line is custom made to be a "classic" AOR single in heavy rotation forevermore but what it sorely lacks is even a molecule of excitement. And, for a jazzer, that makes for a long five minutes. In the past they would have filled its wide-open musical spaces with a thrilling guitar ride or a sizzling saxophone solo but when the opportunity presents itself on this track absolutely nothing happens. Nada. Zip. Lyrically it offers more of the opening saga. Our macho man has acquired/bought his barely-legal trophy bombshell to keep him virile and make him the envy of his peer group but finds that, when not indulging in "the Cuervo Gold" and "the fine Columbian" in order to "make tonight a wonderful thing," he can't carry on a conversation with or come within a time zone of relating to his Barbie doll. His life has become as lacking in substance as the elevator music generated in this too-commercial ditty.

In 1980 disco was finally on its way out after becoming the obnoxious relative that grossly overstayed his welcome but you wouldn't know it by listening to "Glamour Profession." It's hard to believe that the same Steve Gadd who wowed us with his phenomenal drumming on "Aja" is relegated to demeaning single-stroke bass and snare work for 7:28 on this tune. He might as well be a cheap drum machine! The song itself isn't a total wash, though. The lush mix of keyboards is full and fat, the chord changes are nice and various guitars and saxes pop in and out along the way but it's still too predictable. Even the words describing how the late 70s cocaine culture had infiltrated all aspects of life, including professional sports, seem forced and contrived. "Living hard will take its toll," the chorus girls sing. Do tell. Maybe this ill-defined dance number was itself a casualty of their own, openly admitted "illegal fun under the sun."

Just when things are teetering on the verge of getting dull, Tom Scott's hot saxophone resurrects the mood as he ushers in the album's namesake and best song, "Gaucho." The intricate melody and drummer Jeff Porcaro's soft but intriguing accents playing around the beat is like a breath of fresh air at this point. The super-sized chorus is fantastic and the bright horn section poses a striking contrast to the tune's underlying velvety sheen. The lyrics may seem to be mocking the gay lifestyle at first hearing but they are nothing less than an overview of an awkward situation inside a shallow, open relationship founded solely on sexual preference and freedom. In this instance the protagonist's partner has brought home an unwanted guest. "Who is the gaucho, amigo?/why is he standing in your spangled leather poncho?/and your elevator shoes?/bodacious cowboys such as your friend/will never be welcome here/high in the Custerdome." he complains. The intelligent Steely Dan wit is on display here, of course, but the palpable sense of a heartbreak looming in the tale's unrevealed but inevitable ending is poetic and melancholy.

"Time Out of Mind" follows and here guest guitarist Mark Knopfler adds his eloquent fretboard passages to this upbeat, straightforward rocker but it's the dense vocal harmonies that provide the true dynamics. They jump right out of the speakers and credit for that enthralling effect goes to the expert engineering of Roger Nichols. The tune's words continue the story of Mr. Denial as he testifies about the age-defying benefits and euphoria-producing qualities found in modern pharmaceuticals and narcotics. "Tonight when I chase the dragon/the water will change to cherry wine/and the silver will turn to gold/time out of mind." he preaches. While we all know exactly where his race down the fast lane will land him eventually, his unabashed joy of living in the moment is infectious and propels this track forward like a rollercoaster ride.

The album's third uninspired number, "My Rival," is next and its presence here is inexplicable to me. Surely they had better material. It has a plodding, lazy feel that never gets comfortable as the song just lumbers along like a Lamborghini on cruise control in a school zone. If it weren't for Steve Kahn's lively guitar ride it could put you in a coma. Even the entertainment factor normally found in the wordplay is absent and unaccounted for. Donald portrays a fellow out to challenge another male for the hand of a maiden but the most he can boast of doing to the man is matching him "whim for whim." I'm glad they didn't end their first career as Steely Dan with this snoozer.

Instead, they wisely exited on a jazzier note with the mysterious, flowing atmosphere of "Third World Man." The song has a cavernous depth-of-field that pulls you into the hypnotic spell cast by the rhythm section of Gadd & Rainey, the electric piano of Joe Sample and the awesome guitarisms of Larry Carlton. It's unlike anything else on the disc. While the lyrics are rather cryptic, they describe an unstable dude that has gone underground as a one-man army, determined to make "the sidewalks safe for the little guy." The hints are there. "Johnny's playroom/is a bunker filled with sand" and "he's been mobilized since dawn/now he's crouching on the lawn," Fagen observes. Little did we know at the time, but as the tune slowly fades away into the darkness, Donald and Walter were also disappearing over the horizon, not to be heard together again for two decades.

The first track recorded for this album was one they were extremely proud of called "The Second Arrangement." It was accidentally erased. For Fagen & Becker it was as if one of their offspring had suddenly died and I'm not sure they ever got over that tragedy. All I know is that "Gaucho," while admirable in a laid-back Prozac kind of way, pales when placed beside the three albums that preceded it and I think the creators knew it. The magic was gone and maybe that was just as well. Because as soon as Don and Walt left the platform the prog-killing virus that was MTV quickly spread and infected the entire musical world and Steely Dan would have had to go into quarantine. Despite being a step back, this collection of tunes didn't tarnish their sterling reputation a bit and there are times when its sleek, contemporary mood is just right for me to recall what it felt like to turn thirty and wave farewell to my wild, uncomplicated youth.

It was 1980 and my girlfriend at the time was sitting right up next to me on the old Holden ( HT model) bench seat and what comes on the radio but Steely Dan singing Hey Nineteen the single off their new album "Gaucho".I was horrified not because they were on the radio but for me then when I was 21 I thought what happened. Gone was any thing that resembled the bands music from early days and I thought this is too slick for its own good but over time I have grown to actually love the album but back then I said "see ya later" to the Dan and could someone please put on Bruce Springsteen in the car cassette. Around the late nineties I actually purchased the album primarily because it was in the bargain bin and even though I disliked the Hey NIneteen and Babylon Sister there must be a couple of good tracks,it is Steely Dan. Well you betcha there was and that was called Gaucho once again the title track grabbed a hold of me and that was that, they were back and for me it was in their entirety. They had a dispute over the song writing of the tune and the album was plagued with personal problems and Techinical. One completed track was practically erased by mistake and was dumped. Donald Fagen was not happy.

As you may have read my feelings on the first two tracks well I have grown to like them since and both really set the feeling for this album with funk influence but the 4th track Gaucho is maybe their best song, writing dispute or not that the Dan ever did. Glamour Profession is one great number as well Mark Knopfler makes an appearance in the following track Time Out of Mind and the core of the album seems to be within these three tracks.

With a cast of Jazz musicians and anybody else who worked in session music Steely Dan did it again but It was a long time coming for me

Members reviews

I love this one AND CTE about the same. In fact, I like this a bit more. Strange, huh! I guess my appreciation for the jazz side of rock or jazz music generally along with prog rock and art rock accounts for it.

This is the 'pop'-iest, slickest, most polished Steely Dan effort. It gets almost too polished for even a lot of the fans. Add to that their early experiments with digital recording technology, and the whole album has a very studied and deliberate feeling about it which as a rule puts off rock and jazz heads alike.

But what of the compositions? Well, I'll be damned if they don't mostly rock. My least favourite is in fact the much talked about 'Mark Knopfler' track 'Time out of Mind', which I find rather lightweight and insubstantial next to the rest of the material. I love all of the rest unconditionally and honestly believe the album contains some of the best work of the band.

Babylon Sisters generally gets a good deal of love universally and so does the Third World Man solo but the one I like most is Glamour Profession, a creepy, murky piece of music that looks at the sleazy underbelly of Hollywood. A lot of listeners dislike this very sleazy aspect of the music and find it off putting because it's like nothing else Steely Dan had done up to the point and lacks rock and roll oomph. But the music is perfect for the subject matter and works superbly in conjunction with the lyrics. A more straight ahead rocker would probably be more appealing to listen to but I wonder if, at least within the boundaries of Steely Dan's style, it would capture the mood as well as Glamour Profession?

That applies to the album as such. The material oozes with murky cynicism and the music echoes it brilliantly. Songs like Hey Nineteen sound as if they lack the usual Dan hooks until you examine it from this perspective and find that it's quite intentionally designed to throw you off because it reflects the confusion and disillusionment in the lyrics and quite possibly in the lives of the songwriting duo too. To that end, the overproduced feeling too is apt because that is exactly what it is supposed to capture. Too much gloss and lavishness leaving the recipient with an empty feeling.

I'd have to dock it half a star for Time Out of Mind which is not quite good enough to warrant a masterpiece rating for the whole album but as such, this is one of the worthiest albums made by this great band.
Sean Trane
Gaucho could be a metaphor for the closing of a decade full of illusions (and their inevitable disillusions), and it’s got definitely a downbeat to it, as if the party was over and the hangover was settling in after a short night sleep (almost three years). Having really been exposed to sD since AJA and being only 14 at the times, I had cast-off Aja as Adult Oriented Rock and with the same reasoning Gaucho a few years later and the whole of SD’s oeuvre I hadn’t discovered, I passed by this album royally worried with so many other more exciting music. Falling regularly on articles acclaiming SD’s music in the late 90’s, I went back to the library system and rented a few albums, and gradually started warming to it, but still today, I can’t help thinking of finely-crafted AOR done by ultra industry professionals, and throughout the group/project’s history, only Royal Scam really appears to have a bit of real RnR rebellion, the rest of their albums sticking too closely to radio-friendly FM stations with those McDonald choruses (I still have problem with those), so Gaucho seems like a quiet jazzy-goodbye to an industry that they served

If the album starts strong enough with a typical (and slightly reggae-ish) SD track, Babylon Sisters, probably the rockier track on the album, yet so suave and full of brass and studio artefacts, that the rock is almost faded out. Hey Nineteen could be a Dire Strait or JJ Cale track (from their debut album) if you make abstraction of the soooo-typical Dan-esque vocals and even has a bit of a disco beat. The album-longest track, Glamour Profession has a latter Oblivion Express feel, but again relies on disco tricks, here the awful binary rhythm, although a good pedestrian bass buys back some of the credit lost on drums

The flipside opens on the title track, which personally I really don’t like, courtesy to those overly-sweet chorus vocals acting out as confession and trampling the rest of the track to bits & pieces. The binary disco beat comes back with Time Out Of Mind and are so annoying that you’d forget Dire Strait’s Mark Knopfler’s guitar interventions and overshadow the fine arrangements. But SD is nearing its end and it’s quite obvious when listening to the lazy and uninspired My Rival, with little to stop from yawning away if the good guitar solo, while the closing Third World Man is a fitting goodbye track to their fans, but I find their mellow tones to be some sort of hiding scheme to their lack of inspiration aqs the end of the road had been reached.

With Gaucho, ends SD’s supposedly perfect trilogy, and somehow it is an excellent one, but it signals the end of their collaboration under the SD tag (Becker & Fagen would often cross path in the 80’s) until their revival in the 90’s, which I have yet to investigate, and quite frankly, am a bit wary of discovering. So it’s at the top of their game, but at the top of their disillusions as well, that Gaucho was made: literally spotless, but lacking the spark and humour of The Royal Scam, but it’s likely to please most SD fans.

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